Nothing has changed more in the past 20 years than motor sports.
And no one knows it more than Donny Hess and his friends, Larry Heltebridle and Phil Martin.
The Taneytown men, now in their 40s, were very active in drag racing nearly 20 years ago.
Though they drifted away from the sport as their time became limited and their priorities changed, they never lost interest.
About five years ago, Hess and Heltebridle met by chance back at their old hangout, the 75-80 Drag-A-Way in Monrovia, Frederick County.
The roar of the motors and the smell of exhaust fumes brought back old memories.
"I think we can build one of those things," Hess said to Heltebridle as they watched the races.
Heltebridle agreed, and they brought a 1977 Ford Mustang and put a stock 351-cubic-inch engine in it.
They were ready to race. Or so they thought.
After a few runs, they turned times of 12 seconds.
It was fast for them, but they weren't close to winning. They weren't evencompetitive.
The men realized that drag racing had passed them by.
Gone were the days of driving your car to the track, racing it against other cars to see who got to the finish line first, then driving it back home.
Gone were the days when the fastest car won. Gonewere the days when the big-buck guys won with high-performance engines.
Racing in the '70s changed with bracket racing. Now driving skill and consistency was the way to victory.
The realization that drag racing had passed them by did not discourage them. They wanted toget back into racing.
Hess and Heltebridle joined forces with Martin, and together they formed H & H Racing.
Two years later they brought a Ford Pinto from Larry Hoff. They were determined to make up for lost time.
They realized that many drivers were buying chasses. So, they purchased an Austin Chassis from Automotive Racing Chassisin Cockeysville.
The chassis came in a box. When Hess brought it home, he laid it out on the floor with blueprints in his hand.
"I didn't know where to start," he recalled. "I called Warren Frank (at)where we brought the chassis for help.
"He told me how to get going. He was a big help."
There was a great deal of trial and error and many phone calls to Frank. Hess is a welder for Schindler Elevator in Gettysburg, Pa., so he was able to cut and weld the chassis parts. All he had to do was find out what went where.
And that was only the beginning. After the chassis was welded, there was a lot more to do. They put in a 351 Ford Windsor engine with pop-up pistons, ported heads and larger valves, an aluminum intake and a 650 carburetor.
Sounds complicated, and it was. The men had an idea of what they wanted but didn't know how to put it together. Charlie Spielman was the man they went to for the answers.
When it came time to install the front end and the transmission, they went to Chuck Taylor.
Whenwork on the car was completed, H & H Racing was running with the bigboys, clocking in the mid-10s at speeds around 125 mph at the end ofthe quarter-mile.
They raced the Pinto for three years with much success and were so enthused that they built a '79 Mustang two years ago.
Last year they began to entertain the idea of building another car.
Hess was weighing in at 230 pounds, and his 5-foot-10 framewas in need of a little more space than the Pinto provided. When someone offered to buy the Pinto, they went for the deal.
Now they are building a 1989 Ford Probe. The all-tube type chassis provides an additional 6 to 7 inches in the cockpit.
They started on the car inDecember, knowing that they would not complete it in time for the racing season. But the men say they are having as much fun building cars as they do racing. Plus, you can imagine how much more success willmean when it comes in a car they built from scratch.
The car is half-completed. Altogether, the men will put 500 to 600 hours and morethan $10,000 into it.
It is something they don't want to rush. Rushing would mean taking short cuts and sacrificing safety. It has to be done right. They knew going in that they would have to sacrifice most of the racing season.
Still, the men go to the drag races weekly. Hess likes to keep tabs on his son, Corey. Besides, they would miss the people if they didn't go.
"Drag racing is really family-oriented now," Hess said. "That's another big change from before. Now everyone goes; it is one big picnic. Before, no one knew anyone."
The H & H racing team has made a mark in drag racing on the strength ofdriving skill. Now it is making it on craftsmanship.
Someday, Hess hopes to build chasses full time. When he does, there shouldn't be any shortage of customers.
In the meantime, he is waiting to climbback into the driver's seat.
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